Using tele-medicine during coronavirus pandemic can save lives, protect healthcare workers

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A local doctor says using tele-medicine, that's a virtual or online visit with your doctor, is vital during a pandemic. His paper was just published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

We have said time and time again, if you have mild symptoms of what could be novel coronavirus, don't just walk into your doctor's office or urgent care center.

You want to call ahead, or better yet, schedule a virtual visit. Using it now, during a pandemic, can save lives and better protect healthcare workers.

Jefferson Urgent Care has been using tele-health technology for years. Dr. Judd Hollander saying it may be "virtually perfect" for a pandemic and for several reasons.

If someone in the community thinks they may have COVID-19, they can book on the app, providers can then screen them while the patient remains at home, limiting the spread of the virus.

For seniors or patients with chronic disease, and at greater risk for serious illness from coronavirus, using tele-medicine for routine appointments also narrows their risk for exposure.

"There is no reason for you to get on a bus or a train to go see your physician. Who wants to put your life at risk just to go to the doctor, we need to make sure these people can have care without the risk," said Dr. Hollander.

Inside the Emergency Room, providers are also funneling patients to a tele-medicine room to keep staff safe.

"Of course, if you're really sick and we need to go in the room, we'll put on one of those space suits and go in the room and do what we need to to make sure we can stabilize you," said Dr. Hollander.

Tele-health also allows any workers who may be quarantined themselves to continue triaging patients from home, without putting anyone at risk. "We've done that already. We had a physician who was quarantined, turned out she was covid-negative" but Hollander says while she was out of work she could see see patients virtually without putting anyone at risk.

One obstacle is testing. Right now, either the health department can dispatch a team, or Doctor Hollander hopes drive-up testing will become more easily available. "In this region and others, it's really hard to get a test so we think when testing becomes immediately available we're going to see the numbers go up dramatically," Hollander said.

Many centers in our area offer tele-health appointments. Doctor Hollander says many insurance plans cover the visits but not all. He's hoping other insurance plans step up especially as it becomes even more vital during the coming weeks.
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